The Annunciation in Luke (2)

Part One

As one comes to Luke’s second chapter the census is mentioned, but only because it furnishes the reason for Joseph and his family to go south to Bethlehem, the town of David’s birth (Lk. 2:4-5), while also giving the location for the extraordinary vision of the shepherds in Luke 2:8-20.  That event is also filled with covenant expectation.  Notable is that the angel announced, “good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” (Lk. 2:10).  The coming of the Savior was not only for Israel, but was for the Gentiles too, just as the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12:3) and the New covenant (Isa. 49:6) predicted.  Luke is sensitive to the fact that the divine-human encounter, who’s intent is described in Luke 2:14, is understood from the shepherd’s standpoint.  Some of them may have been tracked down by him some sixty years later.  Whether that occurred or not he wants his readers to understand that “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.” (Lk. 2:20).  What the angel told them they would find in “the city of David” was exactly what they did find.    

In the next story, we are told by Luke that Simeon was “waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” (Lk. 2:25).  As far as Simeon was concerned Jesus was to have a dual role:

For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel. – Luke 2:30-32.

This dual role distinguished Israel from the Gentiles but spoke of salvation to both.  The subject being about salvation meant that Simeon was alluding to the New covenant, which is the only biblical covenant which is about salvation.  Certainly, one is reminded of Isaiah 42:6b: “I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles.”  Not so coincidentally, it recalls Isaiah 49:6:

Indeed He says,
‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles,
that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’ 

As I have shown before, Isaiah 42 and 49 both assert the fact that the Servant (Messiah) will be made “as a covenant to the people.” (Isa. 42:6; 49:8).  This is New covenant territory.  I am not saying that Simeon is citing these two texts.  He may have had them in mind, but they do convey his meaning in Luke 2:32.  His private words to Mary were probably troubling to hear:

Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against. – Luke 2:34. 

Such words may have come as confusing in light of everything that had been said to her before.  How could her Son the future King, heir to the everlasting throne of David (cf. Lk. 1:32-33), become “a sign which will be spoke against”? (Lk. 2:34).  That He would be the cause of “the fall and rising of many in Israel” would not have been very surprising, but surely most people would see Him for who He was?  That at least is what Jesus’ mother could be forgiven for thinking.  There is the cryptic response to the news that the shepherds were spreading after their visit.  Luke 2:19 records “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  Matthew Henry has a wise comment on the passage.  He says that just as Mary had trusted God with her reputation when carrying the child, she now quietly trusted God for what would happen in the future.  Notwithstanding, there is an air of foreboding in Simeon’s remark.

After the meeting with Simeon another elderly saint, Anna, was moved to speak (Lk. 2:36-38).  Luke does not give us her exact words, but they appear to have been centered on Jerusalem and its deliverance (cf. Isa. 62:11-12).  Mark Kinzer notices,

Since the hope for Jerusalem’s redemption resounds at the beginning of the Gospel, but is not in fact attained in the course of the events recounted in Luke’s two volumes, attentive readers recognize that Luke’s story is incomplete.[1]

This sense of incompleteness in Luke’s eschatology is seen again in Luke 13:34-35 and Acts 1:6.

There is no doubt that Luke has set us upon a clear heading, which is in-line with OT eschatological expectations.  When crossing over from the Prophets to the opening chapters of Luke’s Gospel there is barely a bump in the road.  What about the other birth narrative in Matthew?


[1] Mark S. Kinzer, “Zionism in Luke – Acts,” in The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land, edited by Gerald R. McDermott, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016, 151.

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